7 Ways Being Debt Free Can Cost You


Here at Wise Bread, we generally hate debt. Owing money to banks and credit card companies is usually a guaranteed way of never achieving the financial freedom you want. But there are cases when taking on some debt can be useful, especially as part of a long-term plan.

Here are seven times when eschewing debt can be a bad financial move.

1. Market Returns May Be Higher Than Interest Rates

When interest rates are very low and the stock market is booming, you may be missing out on investment gains by choosing to live debt-free. For example, let's say you had $20,000 left on a mortgage with a 3.5% interest rate. If you had the cash, you could pay off your mortgage and avoid paying any additional interest. Or, you could put two-thirds of that money in the stock market and get a good return.

There's a chance you'd end up with more cash in the long-run under the second scenario. This is why even super wealthy people are known to mortgage their homes. There is some risk here, especially if you don't have a fixed-rate mortgage.

2. Healthy Economies Rely on Debt

Whether we like it or not, we live in a consumer-driven economy. And one of the key ways for the economy to grow is through people spending. In an ideal world, spending can increase because people are earning more. But it's often credit card debt that fuels much of the growth.

While too much personal debt can be a drag on the economy, some nations have found that high savings rates can make the economy sluggish. In fact, there are some nations — including Germany and China — that have sought to encourage more spending by their citizens. This is not an invitation to go on a spending spree, but it's worth noting that it helps to have some big spenders in our ranks.

3. You Might Miss Out on Opportunities

It's always best to try and achieve your goals without taking on debt, but sometimes there isn't much choice if you're cash poor and set on pursuing a dream. Taking on a manageable student loan to attend college could be seen as a better decision than not going at all. Borrowing to buy a car so you can make it to a well-paying job might be worth it. Taking out a loan to start a business is a common practice. If you're missing out on opportunities because you're averse to all debt, it may be worth loosening up. Just be careful not to dig yourself a hole you can't get out of.

4. Renting Stinks

There are some people who are so averse to risk that they refuse to even consider taking on a mortgage for a home. That's fine if you have the ability to pay for it all in cash, but very few of us can do that. Buying a home, even if you have to take on a 30-year mortgage, is generally a good long-term financial move, because you're building equity as you make payments. Owning a home is considered a great step on the path to wealth. Just be sure that the payments are easy for you to handle.

5. You Can't Build Credit

There's a weird paradox with credit, which is that you can't be approved for loans or credit cards until you've shown that you can pay back loans and make credit card payments. People who never borrow may have no debt, but they may also have very low credit scores because of a lack of credit history. This means that when they eventually do need a loan, they may end up with a high interest rate — if they are even approved at all.

Credit card debt can be burdensome if you're not careful, but your credit score will rise if you keep at least a modest balance on a credit card and make payments on time. If you pay your credit card balance in full each month, you can still avoid debt and build a credit history.

6. You've Depleted Your Emergency Fund

Let's say you have $12,000 left on a mortgage and $13,000 in the bank. You could pay off the mortgage and celebrate owning your home free and clear. But then you have just $1,000 left, which isn't really enough to cover an emergency. While it may be tempting to try to pay down debt as quickly as possible using any money you have, it's important to maintain a decent-sized emergency fund to handle any unexpected costs from "life events."

7. Frugal Isn't Always Fun

When you're in your early 20s, it's tempting to go out with friends, travel, and take on new experiences. But when you're young, you're also probably broke. No one wants to be 22, living at home and unable to even go out for as much as a pizza with friends. There's an argument to be made that being too focused on avoiding debt will cost you some good life experiences. Taking on a small amount of debt could be okay when you're young, as long as you understand how it can impact your long-term goals and have a solid plan to be debt-free once you start earning more.

When has taking on some debt improved your life — and your finances?

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Guest's picture
Phil Danley

This was not taking on debt but slowing down our get out of debt plan. My wife and I planned to take a cruise for our 25th wedding anniversary, which was also the time we were paying off our car loan as fast as possible. We went on the cruise which was AWESOME! And we still paid off the car about five months later. We no longer have the car and I'm looking at a picture of us standing in the Caribbean as I type this!

Guest's picture

Yikes. A Tiny bit of good advice mixed in with a lot of bad advice. While I agree a home mortgage can be good (e.g. leveraged asset that can grow while you live in it, good inflation hedge, etc.), I don't think it should be mixed in with "Frugal isn't always fun." Some of these points are more equal than others, just like in Animal Farm.

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